Thursday, January 26, 2006

Death Penalty: Barbaric Throwback to the Middle Ages

I hold strong views on capital punishment: it's wrong. God is clear about that in the Ten Commandments.

God created is His and only His to take away. That is a pro-life position. Any Christian who claims to be pro-life, then supports cold-blooded murder of a person by the state is deluding themselves. At best, they are pro-unborn life but not pro for existing life.

Be sure to read my article, Pros & Cons of the Death Penalty and Capital Punishment. You'll likely be astonished (and hopefully mortified) at the countries with whom the US shares, and does not share, its barbaric pro-death penalty habits.
A New York Times op-ed today....

Dead to the World by FELIX G. ROHATYN

During my four years as the American ambassador to France, I discovered that no single issue was viewed with as much hostility as our support for the death penalty. Outlawed by every member of the European Union, the death penalty was, and is, viewed in Europe as a throwback to the Middle Ages. When we require European support on security issues — Iran's nuclear program; the war in Iraq; North Korea's bomb; relations with China and Russia; the Middle East peace process — our job is made more difficult by the intensity of popular opposition in Europe to our policy.

Several years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke to the senior staff of our embassy in Paris on this issue to help them explain our position to a very hostile French audience. I was agreeably surprised when he indicated his belief that sooner or later, we would have to take into account the views of Europeans in determining what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

Last March, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders, concluding that the death penalty for minors is indeed cruel and unusual punishment. "Our determination," Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, "finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."

While, unsurprisingly, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, it is notable that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with Justice Kennedy that international trends affect the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment." Justices Scalia and Thomas, on the other hand, took the majority to task for taking "guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislators."

This attitude, reflecting a narrow and parochial view of the issue, is also found in Judge Samuel Alito's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the Supreme Court: "I don't think it appropriate or useful to look to foreign law in interpreting the provisions of our Constitution. I think the framers would be stunned by the idea that the Bill of Rights is to be interpreted by taking a poll of countries of the world."

To the contrary, globalization has made it not only "appropriate or useful" but vital to look at foreign laws. It is in our interest to be aware of their impact whether they concern antitrust, food safety or the death penalty. Contempt for the laws of our allies is a major factor in our increasing isolation in the world; our present posture in Iraq reflects that reality. That is why is it is deeply troubling that the next member of the Supreme Court will most likely share Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas's point of view.

The Supreme Court is our most respected institution. Whether it is conservative or liberal is important; but it is even more important that it be enlightened. It must show understanding, if not respect, for other peoples' beliefs and laws, and occasionally be willing to support reasonable changes. Our Constitution, itself, was an extension of Enlightenment ideas that were incubated on the Continent. It certainly did not spring up in a vacuum, but was affected by strains of political thinking in Europe.

"That our understanding of the Constitution does change from time to time has been settled since John Marshall breathed life into its text," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote last year, concurring with Justice Kennedy. Taking the views of 450 million Europeans into account is not a sign of weakness on our part, nor is it a commitment to change our views. It is simply recognition that the laws of our most important allies, our biggest foreign investors, foreign employers, foreign customers and trading partners are worthy of our attention. That is a sign of enlighten- ment.

Felix G. Rohatyn was the United States ambassador to France from 1997 to 2001.

(Also see US Liberals at

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Culture Wars - Mean-Spirited Family Values

An articulate, "must-read" New York Times editorial today for anyone interested in the so-called culture wars....

Family Values on Fox

The news that "American Idol" has started a new season with ratings even more enormous than last year's reminds us of an old query. In a nation with a disquieting surplus of moral arbiters, why isn't there a call to clean up television programs that specialize in humiliating the weak?

People devote untold hours to worrying about the sexual orientation of cartoon characters, but nobody seems disturbed that more than 30 million American households watch a "family" show that picks out hapless, and frequently helpless, contestants solely for famous and powerful judges to make fun of them on national television.

"American Idol" is known, even among those who have never seen it, as a talent show in which a dozen or so young pop singers compete to win a recording contract and a national profile. But it begins every season with several weeks of early elimination rounds in which judges pick the handful of contestants who will make it to the finals from a preselected mixture of very talented and very terrible singers. The very terrible have reason to hope that, having come so far, they might actually be as good as they imagined in their dreams.

Most of them are extremely young, naïve and deluded. Many appear terribly vulnerable and some seem to border on mentally impaired. The fun is supposed to come from seeing the celebrity judges roll their eyes, laugh, and tell them that they are tone-deaf, fat, funny-looking or, in the case of one young man, "atrocious" and "confused." (The cameras followed him out of the audition room, the better to make sport of him crying with his family.) The producers so treasured the comment of one judge, Simon Cowell, who said an overweight woman would require a bigger stage in Hollywood, that they used it to promote the segment.

In many ways, all this is just a much more expensive, glittery version of the old "Gong Show" from the 1970's. But the targets of that less hypersuccessful program were generally older and frequently more cynical. And, of course, the whole thing happened in a different era, when family values was not an overriding obsession.

No one wants to censor Fox's money machine, but it does seem peculiar that a nation so torn apart over what message gay marriage or prayer in school will send to impressionable youth is so unified in giving a pass to a program that teaches young people that it's extremely cool to be mean.

(Also read US Liberals at

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How Will You Tell Your Grandchildren that You Reacted to Al Gore's Historic Speech?

Yesterday, Al Gore delivered one of the great speeches in American history, in which, in decrying the dire Constitutional crisis created in the US by President George W. Bush, he often quoted the founders of our country.

One day, we will all look back to Mr. Gore's speech, and either be proud that we listened and understood and fought for the sanctity of the US Constitution.....or be embarrassed and shocked that we didn't comprehend the utter seriousness of the predicament of the United States of America in 2006.

What will you tell your grandchildren about your reaction to Gore's speech yesterday, beseeching all American citizens to rise right now and mightily defend the United States Constitution?

(Also read US Liberals at

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Noam Chomsky: "There Is No War on Terror"

From AlterNet, a deeply fascinating interview with author and MIT professor Noam Chomsky, a leading US foreign policy critic, by Seattle Weekly reporter Geov Parrish....

Chomsky: 'There Is No War On Terror' by Geov Parrish,
AlterNetPosted on January 14, 2006

For over 40 years, MIT professor Noam Chomsky has been one of the world's leading intellectual critics of U.S. foreign policy. Today, with America's latest imperial adventure in trouble both politically and militarily, Chomsky -- who turned 77 last month -- vows not to slow down "as long as I'm ambulatory." I spoke with him by phone, on Dec. 9 and again on Dec. 20, from his office in Cambridge.

Geov Parrish: Is George Bush in political trouble? And if so, why?

Noam Chomsky: George Bush would be in severe political trouble if there were an opposition political party in the country. Just about every day, they're shooting themselves in the foot. The striking fact about contemporary American politics is that the Democrats are making almost no gain from this. The only gain that they're getting is that the Republicans are losing support. Now, again, an opposition party would be making hay, but the Democrats are so close in policy to the Republicans that they can't do anything about it. When they try to say something about Iraq, George Bush turns back to them, or Karl Rove turns back to them, and says, "How can you criticize it? You all voted for it." And, yeah, they're basically correct.

How could the Democrats distinguish themselves at this point, given that they've already played into that trap?

Democrats read the polls way more than I do, their leadership. They know what public opinion is. They could take a stand that's supported by public opinion instead of opposed to it. Then they could become an opposition party, and a majority party. But then they're going to have to change their position on just about everything.

Take, for example, take your pick, say for example health care. Probably the major domestic problem for people. A large majority of the population is in favor of a national health care system of some kind. And that's been true for a long time. But whenever that comes up -- it's occasionally mentioned in the press -- it's called politically impossible, or "lacking political support," which is a way of saying that the insurance industry doesn't want it, the pharmaceutical corporations don't want it, and so on. Okay, so a large majority of the population wants it, but who cares about them?

Well, Democrats are the same. Clinton came up with some cockamamie scheme which was so complicated you couldn't figure it out, and it collapsed.

Kerry in the last election, the last debate in the election, October 28 I think it was, the debate was supposed to be on domestic issues. And the New York Times had a good report of it the next day. They pointed out, correctly, that Kerry never brought up any possible government involvement in the health system because it "lacks political support." It's their way of saying, and Kerry's way of understanding, that political support means support from the wealthy and the powerful. Well, that doesn't have to be what the Democrats are. You can imagine an opposition party that's based on popular interests and concerns.

Given the lack of substantive differences in the foreign policies of the two parties --
Or domestic. Yeah, or domestic. But I'm setting this up for a foreign policy question.

Are we being set up for a permanent state of war?

I don't think so. Nobody really wants war. What you want is victory. Take, say, Central America. In the 1980s, Central America was out of control. The U.S. had to fight a vicious terrorist war in Nicaragua, had to support murderous terrorist states in El Salvador and Guatemala, and Honduras, but that was a state of war. All right, the terrorists succeeded. Now, it's more or less peaceful. So you don't even read about Central America any more because it's peaceful. I mean, suffering and miserable, and so on, but peaceful. So it's not a state of war. And the same elsewhere. If you can keep people under control, it's not a state of war.

Take, say, Russia and Eastern Europe. Russia ran Eastern Europe for half a century, almost, with very little military intervention. Occasionally they'd have to invade East Berlin, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, but most of the time it was peaceful. And they thought everything was fine -- run by local security forces, local political figures, no big problem. That's not a permanent state of war.

In the War on Terror, however, how does one define victory against a tactic? You can't ever get there.

There are metrics. For example, you can measure the number of terrorist attacks. Well, that's gone up sharply under the Bush administration, very sharply after the Iraq war. As expected -- it was anticipated by intelligence agencies that the Iraq war would increase the likelihood of terror. And the post-invasion estimates by the CIA, National Intelligence Council, and other intelligence agencies are exactly that. Yes, it increased terror.

In fact, it even created something which never existed -- new training ground for terrorists, much more sophisticated than Afghanistan, where they were training professional terrorists to go out to their own countries. So, yeah, that's a way to deal with the War on Terror, namely, increase terror. And the obvious metric, the number of terrorist attacks, yeah, they've succeeded in increasing terror.

The fact of the matter is that there is no War on Terror. It's a minor consideration. So invading Iraq and taking control of the world's energy resources was way more important than the threat of terror.

And the same with other things. Take, say, nuclear terror. The American intelligence systems estimate that the likelihood of a "dirty bomb," a dirty nuclear bomb attack in the United States in the next ten years, is about 50 percent. Well, that's pretty high. Are they doing anything about it? Yeah. They're increasing the threat, by increasing nuclear proliferation, by compelling potential adversaries to take very dangerous measures to try to counter rising American threats.

This is even sometimes discussed. You can find it in the strategic analysis literature. Take, say, the invasion of Iraq again. We're told that they didn't find weapons of mass destruction. Well, that's not exactly correct. They did find weapons of mass destruction, namely, the ones that had been sent to Saddam by the United States, Britain, and others through the 1980s. A lot of them were still there. They were under control of U.N. inspectors and were being dismantled. But many were still there.

When the U.S. invaded, the inspectors were kicked out, and Rumsfeld and Cheney didn't tell their troops to guard the sites. So the sites were left unguarded, and they were systematically looted. The U.N. inspectors did continue their work by satellite and they identified over 100 sites that were systematically looted, like, not somebody going in and stealing something, but carefully, systematically looted.

By people who knew what they were doing.

Yeah, people who knew what they were doing. It meant that they were taking the high-precision equipment that you can use for nuclear weapons and missiles, dangerous biotoxins, all sorts of stuff. Nobody knows where it went, but, you know, you hate to think about it. Well, that's increasing the threat of terror, substantially. Russia has sharply increased its offensive military capacity in reaction to Bush's programs, which is dangerous enough, but also to try to counter overwhelming U.S. dominance in offensive capacity.

They are compelled to ship nuclear missiles all over their vast territory. And mostly unguarded. And the CIA is perfectly well aware that Chechen rebels have been casing Russian railway installations, probably with a plan to try to steal nuclear missiles. Well, yeah, that could be an apocalypse. But they're increasing that threat. Because they don't care that much.

Same with global warming. They're not stupid. They know that they're increasing the threat of a serious catastrophe. But that's a generation or two away. Who cares? There's basically two principles that define the Bush administration policies: stuff the pockets of your rich friends with dollars, and increase your control over the world. Almost everything follows from that. If you happen to blow up the world, well, you know, it's somebody else's business. Stuff happens, as Rumsfeld said.

You've been tracking U.S. wars of foreign aggression since Vietnam, and now we're in Iraq. Do you think there's any chance in the aftermath, given the fiasco that it's been, that there will be any fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy? And if so, how would it come about?

Well, there are significant changes. Compare, for example, the war in Iraq with 40 years ago, the war in Vietnam. There's quite significant change. Opposition to the war in Iraq is far greater than the much worse war in Vietnam. Iraq is the first war I think in the history of European imperialism, including the U.S., where there was massive protest before the war was officially launched. In Vietnam it took four or five years before there was any visible protest. Protest was so slight that nobody even remembers or knows that Kennedy attacked South Vietnam in 1962. It was a serious attack. It was years later before protest finally developed.

What do you think should be done in Iraq?

Well, the first thing that should be done in Iraq is for us to be serious about what's going on. There is almost no serious discussion, I'm sorry to say, across the spectrum, of the question of withdrawal. The reason for that is that we are under a rigid doctrine in the West, a religious fanaticism, that says we must believe that the United States would have invaded Iraq even if its main product was lettuce and pickles, and the oil resources of the world were in Central Africa.

Anyone who doesn't believe that is condemned as a conspiracy theorist, a Marxist, a madman, or something. Well, you know, if you have three gray cells functioning, you know that that's perfect nonsense.

The U.S. invaded Iraq because it has enormous oil resources, mostly untapped, and it's right in the heart of the world's energy system. Which means that if the U.S. manages to control Iraq, it extends enormously its strategic power, what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls its critical leverage over Europe and Asia. Yeah, that's a major reason for controlling the oil resources -- it gives you strategic power. Even if you're on renewable energy you want to do that. So that's the reason for invading Iraq, the fundamental reason.

Now let's talk about withdrawal. Take any day's newspapers or journals and so on. They start by saying the United States aims to bring about a sovereign democratic independent Iraq. I mean, is that even a remote possibility?

Just consider what the policies would be likely to be of an independent sovereign Iraq. If it's more or less democratic, it'll have a Shiite majority. They will naturally want to improve their linkages with Iran, Shiite Iran. Most of the clerics come from Iran. The Badr Brigade, which basically runs the South, is trained in Iran. They have close and sensible economic relationships which are going to increase. So you get an Iraqi/Iran loose alliance.

Furthermore, right across the border in Saudi Arabia, there's a Shiite population which has been bitterly oppressed by the U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny. And any moves toward independence in Iraq are surely going to stimulate them, it's already happening. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian oil is.

Okay, so you can just imagine the ultimate nightmare in Washington: a loose Shiite alliance controlling most of the world's oil, independent of Washington and probably turning toward the East, where China and others are eager to make relationships with them, and are already doing it. Is that even conceivable? The U.S. would go to nuclear war before allowing that, as things now stand. (
Read the rest of this answer here at alterNet.)

How will the U.S. deal with China as a superpower?

What's the problem with China?

Well, competing for resources, for example.

NC: Well, if you believe in markets, the way we're supposed to, compete for resources through the market. So what's the problem? The problem is that the United States doesn't like the way it's coming out. Well, too bad. Who has ever liked the way it's coming out when you're not winning?

China isn't any kind of threat. We can make it a threat. If you increase the military threats against China, then they will respond. And they're already doing it. They'll respond by building up their military forces, their offensive military capacity, and that's a threat. So, yeah, we can force them to become a threat.

What's your biggest regret over 40 years of political activism? What would you have done differently?

I would have done more. Because the problems are so serious and overwhelming that it's disgraceful not to do more about it.

What gives you hope?

What gives me hope actually is public opinion. Public opinion in the United States is very well studied, we know a lot about it. It's rarely reported, but we know about it. And it turns out that, you know, I'm pretty much in the mainstream of public opinion on most issues. I'm not on some, not on gun control or creationism or something like that, but on most crucial issues, the ones we've been talking about, I find myself pretty much at the critical end, but within the spectrum of public opinion. I think that's a very hopeful sign. I think the United States ought to be an organizer's paradise.

What sort of organizing should be done to try and change some of these policies?

Well, there's a basis for democratic change. Take what happened in Bolivia a couple of days ago. How did a leftist indigenous leader get elected? Was it showing up at the polls once every four years and saying, "Vote for me!"? No. It's because there are mass popular organizations which are working all the time on everything from blocking privatization of water to resources to local issues and so on, and they're actually participatory organizations. Well, that's democracy. We're a long way from it. And that's one task of organizing.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Despicable OpEd Denigrates Christianity for Democrats

I am back, refreshened from a delightful Christmas season spent in Oregon and California, celebrating with family amidst good cheer, artful food, thoughtful gifts and an unusual spate of beautiful music.

And I am once again ready to take on the world from my progressive Christian viewpoint.

But the
New York Times made it too easy for me to start the new year on an indignant note. Today, they published a OpEd piece that I find despicable and entirely off-point.

Of course, it's written about progressive Christians by a research fellow from the highly conservative Heritage Foundation......who thinks it's only acceptable for conservatives to embrace religious faith values as part of their basis for making political decisions.

Here's my theory....he knows that if Democrats are also widely seen as practicing Christians, then the present Republican political coalition will lose its potency. So he fights for Democrats to continue to be viewed by middle-American voters as faithless, opportunistic heathens.

Apparently, the OpEd writer missed the joint statement released in 2005 by the top leaders of five major Christian denominations in the United States.....The Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church...... proclaiming that:

"Like many Americans, we read our daily newspaper through the lens of faith, and when we see injustice, it is our duty to say so. The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust. It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus.

According to the White House's own numbers, this budget would move 300,000 people off food stamps in the next five years. It would cut the funds that allow 300,000 children to receive day care. It would reduce funding for Medicaid by $45 billion over the next ten years, and this at a time when 45 million Americans-the highest level on record-are already without health insurance.

These cuts would be alarming in any circumstances, but in the context of the 2006 budget, they are especially troubling. For even as it reduces aid to those in poverty, this budget showers presents on the rich."

You can read the entirety of this remarkable and inspiring statement here at my site, at Five Christian Denominations Make Joint Statement Slamming Bush 2006 Budget.

From the New York Times today.....

Nearer, My God, to the G.O.P. by JOSEPH LOCONTE

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, sounded like an Old Testament prophet recently when she denounced the Republican budget for its "injustice and immorality" and urged her colleagues to cast their no votes "as an act of worship" during this religious season.

This, apparently, is what the Democrats had in mind when they vowed after President Bush's re-election to reclaim religious voters for their party. In the House, they set up a Democratic Faith Working Group. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, created a Web site called Word to the Faithful. And Democratic officials began holding conferences with religious progressives.

All of this was with the intention of learning how to link faith with public policy. An event for liberal politicians and advocates at the University of California at Berkeley in July even offered a seminar titled "I Don't Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left."

A look at the tactics and theology of the religious left, however, suggests that this is exactly what American politics does not need. If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they'll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right.

For starters, we'll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book "God's Politics," Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.

"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.

When Christians - liberal or conservative - invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous "policy papers" from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: they're awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council.

Christians are right to argue that the Bible is a priceless source of moral and spiritual insight. But they're wrong to treat it as a substitute for a coherent political philosophy.

There is another worrisome trait shared by religious liberals and many conservatives: the tendency to moralize in the most extreme terms. William Sloane Coffin of the Clergy Leadership Network was typical in his denunciation of the Bush tax cuts: "I think he should remember that it was the devil who tempted Jesus with unparalleled wealth and power."

This trend is at its worst in the misplaced outrage in the war against Islamic terrorism. It's true that in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Christian conservatives shamed themselves by blaming the horror on feminists and gays, who allegedly incited God's wrath. But such nonsense is echoed by liberals like the theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University.

"The price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now is going to be terrible indeed," he said of the United States' response to the Qaeda attacks. "People will exact some very strong judgments against America - and I think we will well deserve it." Professor Hauerwas joins a chorus of left-wing clerics and religious scholars who compare the United States to Imperial Rome and Nazi Germany.

Democrats who want religious values to play a greater role in their party might take a cue from the human-rights agenda of religious conservatives. Evangelicals begin with the Bible's account of the God-given dignity of every person. And they've joined hands with liberal and secular groups to defend the rights of the vulnerable and oppressed, be it through prison programs for offenders and their families, laws against the trafficking of women and children, or an American-brokered peace plan for Sudan. In each case believers have applied their religious ideals with a strong dose of realism and generosity.

A completely secular public square is neither possible nor desirable; democracy needs the moral ballast of religion. But a partisan campaign to enlist the sacred is equally wrongheaded. When people of faith join political debates, they must welcome those democratic virtues that promote the common good: prudence, reason, compromise - and a realization that politics can't usher in the kingdom of heaven.

(Joseph Loconte, a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and a commentator for National Public Radio, is the editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.")

(US Liberals at